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23 February 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 784: Turn Left

Dear diary,

These latter episodes of Series Four are real barnstormers, aren't they? I can almost forgive the slight dip in quality (for me, anyway) in the middle of the series, because you can see perhaps where the entire production team were saving themselves ready to really go for broke with this finale. I mused a few weeks ago, at the end of Series Three, that Turn Left didn't feel like the start of a three-parter in the same way that Utopia did, and made a note to revisit that thought when I reached this point. Watching today, I think I'd stand by that comment… and it's largely because the central story of Turn Left draws to a close before we then get a cliffhanger at the end. That cliffhanger is integral to the story we've just watched (so it's not really 'tacked on' in the same way that the Victory of the Daleks lead-in is at the end of The Beast Below, or the cliffhanger to The Poison Sky is for The Doctor's Daughter, for example), but it comes after the resolution of the immediate plot - whereas the Utopia one is bang in the middle of it! So yes, I'll be standing by that thinking!

But enough about the relationship between this episode and the two that follow it - there's more than enough to keep you going here! People always seem to hail Blink as the best of the 'Doctor-lite' stories from the Russell T Davies era, but surely this one has to take that crown? In some ways, Turn Left plays out a bit like a clip show, going back over events from the last couple of series, and presenting them to us in such a nightmarish way. I'd love to see a whole series set in the world we get in this story - not even necessarily a Doctor Who series, just a programme that follows what would happen in such a situation, where the world is headed to hell in a hand basket. If I'm honest, I still hold out hope that Davies might write such a series one day - I think he'd do such a good job with it. With only a few brief lines and scenes, we get a real feel for the way that this world works, and some of it is simply beautiful in a kind of nightmarish way. A real highlight has to be Rocco being carted off to a 'labour camp', while Wilf tries to hold it together - Bernard Cribbins really sells that moment, and once again, I can't help but feel emotional when the man is on screen.

Cribbins isn't the only one turning in a tour de force of a performance here - Catherine Tate has never been more on top of her game. Tate proved to people how great she could be in Doctor Who right back in her earliest episodes, but Turn Left is the moment where she really silences the naysayers. When she's finally shown the creature on her back, or realises that she's going to die… it's simply stunning. Coming after forty minutes of watching Donna struggle against the tide of hell befalling the world, it's even more emotional. I’ve praised Cribbins and Tate over and over in the last few weeks, so I’d also like to make a point of mentioning Jaqueline King here. She’s been great throughout the series whenever she’s turned up, but this episode really gives her a chance to go for it, and combining these three as the Noble Family… well, it’s no wonder they’re such a great part of the series.

I could ramble on forever about how great the performances and settings of this episode are, but instead I just want to touch on something tiny and insignificant. The matte painting used for the world of Shen Shen at the episode’s beginning is gorgeous! I’ve been meaning to bring this up for ages - having pointed out how nice the Ood Sphere was in long shot (if not in close up), and then making a note to mention it again during The Doctor’s Daughter, for the surface of the planet there. I seem to say it a lot, but you can really see the confidence of the team at this point - creating alien environments so beautifully, even when they’re only used briefly to set up the story, before we’re brought back down to reality.

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